Thursday, June 19, 2008

Simply Exhausting

Holy crap, yesterday was exhausting. You know things are going to be busy when your work day feels like a break. We started out yesterday with a bang, the one from our tire to be specific. After work, Jamie and I met Stacy halfway because we just had too much to do. We somehow managed to avoid a reckless driving ticket as we zipped down route 28 to drop the kids off at a friend's house. From there, it was a warpspeed drive to the hospital for Stacy's first pregnancy appointment with the OB/GYN. We got there just in time for the appointment. Turns out we were just in time to wait for their backlog to filter through.

Dr. Nance is a fantastic OB/GYN. We wouldn't switch to another willingly, but he's the only doctor in his office. So when things get backed up, they stay backed up. I normally wouldn't complain since he's got a couple of comfortable chairs in his waiting room. However, when you're in an OB/GYN waiting room, you're bound to run into some pregnant women. So, after apologizing for being so clumsy, you've got to offer them your seat. At one point we had five pregnant women sitting and two husbands standing. I managed to perch on the arm of Stacy's Comfy chair. Those of you that know me should try to picture that in your mind. Imagine a
a bird the size of a walrus hanging out on the arm of a chair and you're halfway there.

Dr. Nance was great as usual. Stacy loves coming into his office with colored hair. He pretends to be annoyed by her, but he loves it when she's pregnant. He gets to tell all the other patients that, "don't worry, it's not her natural hair color," or, "on her, it's normal," and, "stay away from this one, she's a bad influence."

After the appointment, we re-engaged the warp drive to pick up the kids before Stacy dropped me off at home. She had to race to a PTO meeting and I had an appointment to go out with the missionaries from our church. Funnily enough, Stacy spent about fifteen minutes with the kids at Chick-Fil-A before remembering that no one was showing up because they had settled on the McDonalds up the street. Poor Stacy.

For my part, I got dressed to go out with the mission mormonaries and picked them up a few minutes later. We tried out about eight contacts, including a couple of families from church that I visit regularly. No joy. We caught one of my families as they were leaving for church activities. The only other two human beings we spoke with were either too busy or not interested. C'est la vie.

Stacy had just barely walked in the door by the time I got home. I had the foresight to stop by Starbucks and grab her a coffee-free frappacino before walking in, though. We ushered the kids to bed well past bedtime, as usual. Bedtime for us? Nah!

My new class had started Tuesday but I hadn't signed on and posted yet. I hate feeling behind (unless it's Stacy's) so I sat down at the computer. Two hours later I had posted all four of the first week's discussion question responses, my bio, and had a screaming headache. Stacy dropped off somewhere around eleven, the lightweight. By the time I shut down the computer it was after midnight. Who needs sleep?

Department of rhyme
I'm eating an orange with breakfast today and it prompted a memory. I remember reading somewhere that "orange" is the only word in the English language that doesn't rhyme with anything. I beg to differ. At least I did for a moment. I think that words like "arrange", "range", er, and other words ending in "ange" are perfectly acceptable rhymes. I said, "for a moment," because a quick google comes up with this. Thus my idle genius is proved as limited as my knowledge in the world of rhyme. I'm not a poet, and I know it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Early Morning Adventures on the Freeway

On the way to work this morning, Stacy and I noticed a rhythmic pulse coming from one of the tires. By the time we made it north of Manassas, we were getting into the groove, so we stopped to dance. No, wait, that's not right. I mean, we were getting a little worried, so we pulled into a gas station to check it out. I thought I heard it coming from the front passenger-side tire, but couldn't find any cause. I hopped back in and started to pull back into traffic when Stacy pinpointed the sound coming from an Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator one of the kids was playing with in the back seat. I kid! It was coming from the rear passenger-side tire. She got out and found the culprit, a nice big bolt stuck right in the tire.

No problem, right? The bolt was keeping in the air. We had a slow leak, but it should hold long enough to get me to work and Stacy to the garage. You already know where this is going, but I'm going to drive you there anyway, so buckle up and pipe down.

Once we hit 60 mph on route 28 just before the route 50 exit, we hear a loud noise come from the rear of the van. I could have sworn that I took the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator away from the kids! But it wasn't the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator that made the noise, it was the bolt explosively ejecting itself from the tire and the tire subsequently losing all pressure.

I pulled over and turned on the hazards and got out to survey the damage. The tire was completely flat, a chill wind was blowing, and I wore shorts today. After dealing with the bizarre way of retrieving the spare tire, which involved a winch bar, a winch, and a hook underneath the front of the van, I prepared to jack up the car. Then I noticed that I had no tire iron.

WTH? How could the manufacturer leave out the tire iron? I looked everywhere, under the van, in the jack storage compartment, in our crate of car gear, it was nowhere to be found. The car comes with a collapsible doohicky for operating a winch, but no tire iron?

By this time, Stacy had reached Jamie, whose kids she watches, and she was on the way to us. As I sat in the front seat toying with the jack, Stacy found the tire iron. It was in my hands. The handle for the jack doubled as the tire iron. Sheepish? Me? Nah, why do you ask?

Of course, finding the tire iron is only a small part of changing the tire. The lovely people that rotated the tires last were kind enough to tighten them down to 250 pounds of torque. Luckily, I've been working out (my eating arm) so I had enough weight to loosen them. After I finished jumping up and down on the tire iron to release the flat, I popped on the spare. Jamie had arrived by then, so we ferried the kids to the van and sent Stacy on her way.

I guess the mechanic was right, we would have to get new tires before our next inspection.

The Amazing Bulk, er, The Dramatic Sulk, er, The Fantastic Caulk, er, The Incredible Hulk!

To the surprise and amazement of all, I'm sure, Stacy and I did not choose to celebrate our tenth anniversary by going to see The Incredible Hulk on opening day. I know, I know, I loose some geek cred. Then again, I'd rather have a happy wife than the adoration and respect of millions of geeks. See what I did there? I made a funny. Anyway, back to the point, I saw it last night with Jon of Threshold fame and a friend of ours, Jamie.

I went into this movie with mixed feelings. Having already been burnt by one offering in the Hulk franchise, it was natural that I'd be a bit gunshy. I took solace in the fact that it wasn't likely to be worse than its predecessor, regardless of the Internet rumbling that it was more inspired from the TV series than the comics. I also had a bit of trepidation that Edward Norton's widely publicized creative changes may make it even worse. As we all know, actors get paid to lie well, they are not generally valued for anything creative beyond delivering lines in a certain way.

As far as I know, Norton's changes didn't screw up the movie. Not seeing what it would have been without him, I can't really say. However, the movie with him delightfully exceeded my expectations. He and Louis Leterrier, director of Transporter 2 of all things, delivered a solid entry into the Hulk mythos.

Thankfully, Bruce Banner/Hulk's origins are told during the credits. The credits also introduce much of the supporting cast. Such as Bruce's One True Love™, Betty Ross, played by the surprisingly un-annoying Liv Tyler. I suppose if you just don't have her speaking in Elvish, things aren't nearly as bad. We also meet Betty's blowhard father, Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross, played by William Hurt. I like Hurt, but he is no Thunderbolt Ross. As Jon mentioned, Thunderbolt should be constantly screaming, veins bulging, eyes wide, "Get me that Hulk!" kinda urgency. Hurt's Ross is good, he's just not Thunderbolt good.

The supporting cast is rounded out by some good, some bad. Dr. Samson was played by Ty Burrell. I just don't like Burrell. He always seems slightly, I don't know, douchy onscreen. I don't know if he'll grow muscles and a long, flowing mane of green hair by the sequel, but it's hard to imagine him as Doc Samson, shrink to the superheroes. He had a good snarky line at Thunderbolt in one scene, I have to give him that. The mad scientist that tries to help Banner is Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake "We Thought You Was a Toad" Nelson. We get a sneak peak into what he may become in his final scenes. You're going to have to click on the link if you want the spoiler, though. Although, if you recognize the character name like I didn't, you already know who he is.

Finishing up the cast is our villain, Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth. Roth was a good choice for Blonsky. He definitely has the normal guy/psycho guy transformation down pat. It's not too much of a stretch to picture him making the leap into the Abomination's Speedos. I know, Jon, I know, he didn't wear his Speedos in the movie. Is that really such a bad thing?

There's really not a lot to say about the plot that those familiar with the theme of Hulk don't already know. Banner is on the run from the government in general, General Ross in particular and Emil Blonsky, Ross's bulldog. While he evades capture, he seeks a cure for his condition and strives to keep the Hulk in check. Betty loves Bruce, no matter what he does, so it's no surprise when she dumps Samson like he never existed to jump into Banner's arms at the first opportunity.

Too bad they changed the rules on her! Instead of only showing up when Banner gets angry, Hulk makes his appearance any time Brucie's heart rate exceeds 200. Kinda arbitrary, but it's not a significant change, at least not to me. Betty didn't seem too happy about it.

Anyway, back to the story. Whilst fleeing Thunderbolt, Bruce and Betty seek the help of the enigmatic Mr. Blue, or Samuel Sterns. Sterns, the amoral little rascal, had been reproducing Banner's blood from a sample he sent early on. Meanwhile, bad little Blonsky has been juicing up with Super Soldier Serum, or some variation, and wants more. After Bruce is out of the picture, Blonsky forces Sterns to give him a transfusion of Bruce's blood.

Blonsky + Super Soldier Serum + Gamma-irradiated Blood = Abomination

That's when the real fun begins. The whole movie is a ramp up to the ultimate battle between the two behemoths. It does not disappoint. Hulk gets whacked around pretty good, but we all know who's the strongest one there is. It's not until this battle that we get to see some of Hulk's trademark moves, such as the thunderclap or the earthquake-producing ground pound. They're well worth the wait, though.

Jon mentioned that the pacing of this movie wasn't very good, better than the previous movie, but not as good as it could have been. I agree that the portions between Hulk's appearances felt long, but I can't think of how they could have paced it better. We definitely get some good Hulk scenes. The first appearance in the bottling factory only gives us tantalizing glimpses of him. Hulk's next scene is out in the open, fighting the army. It's just as good as the best Hulk scene of the previous movie, when he fights the army in the desert.

There are plenty of nods to fans of the comics and the old TV series. Naturally, Stan "The Man" Lee makes a cameo. So does Lou Ferrigno, doing double duty as a security guard (mit lines!) and as Hulk's voice, nice touch. Even dear, departed Bill Bixby makes a cameo on a TV. There's a character named McGee that is a reporter for the college paper. For those of you that don't remember, McGee was the reporter that continually hounded Bixby's Banner in the TV series. The Super Soldier Serum had the name Reinstein, code name for Abraham Erskine, the inventor of the Super Soldier Serum that transforms 98-pound weakling Steve Rogers into Captain America. Even Robert Downey Jr. makes an appearance as Tony Stark to tease Thunderbolt Ross and the audience about a team they're putting together.

Besides the pacing issues, which are by no means a deal breaker, and some deviations from the original source material, which is commonplace in the transition to the silver screen, The Incredible Hulk comes out on top. As far as recent Marvel movies go, I'd put it below Iron Man but above Spider-Man 3.

I give The Incredible Hulk seven out of nine non-existent gamma bombs on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kung Fu Panda OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ska-doosh

Stacy and I took the girls to see Kung Fu Panda with a friend of ours and her two boys. I wasn't expecting much from this movie. It looked like another in a long line of computer animated movies featuring big-name voice talent.

Well, it was that, but it exceeded my expectations. The relative unknown directing team of Mark Osborne and John Stevenson delivered a surprising amount of laughs and a few touching scenes among the whirlwind martial arts action in what could have been a standard reluctant hero movie. Naturally, they had help in the form of the aforementioned big-name voice talent

Leading the pack is Jack Black as the title panda, Po. Working with his father in the family noodle shop, Po dreams of something bigger, pun intended. His father, played by my favorite ethnic actor, James Hong, is a crane or some kind of bird. In a delightful twist, we never find out how he came to raise a panda as a son, not even during the big heart-felt father-son talk that usually couches the reveal. Thanks to a freak set of circumstances, mostly of his own hapless doing, Po is chosen by Kung Fu Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, another great ethnic actor) as the dragon warrior, destined to defeat the evil and nigh-unbeatable Tai Lung (Ian McShane).

This pisses off the Furious Five and their master, Oogway's student, Shifu, to no end. Shifu, played to my surprise once the credits were rolling, by Dustin Hoffman, bears the terrible burden of being the one that taught Tai Lung before he went bad. Obi Wan much? His Quintessential Quintet is led by Master Tigress, aka Angelina Jolie, didn't notice. Followed by Master Crane, or David Cross, didn't register. Next is Master Viper, Lucy Liu, really? Then we have Master Mantis, voiced by Seth Rogen, don't watch enough Appatow to know him. Finally we have Master Monkey, our beloved Jackie Chan, so that's why his accent was so strong! Seriously, either I was having an off night or this voice talent was just too vanilla. I'm leaning towards the former. I was juggling no less than three kids in and out of my lap during the course of the movie, so I may have been somewhat distracted. Let's just say my exceptional voice-placing talent took a break.

Ooo! Ooo! What? No, I'm not doing my Master Monkey impression. I don't believe he once uttered a single Ook through the whole movie. I just remembered one of the voice actors that I actually recognized, smartass. Michael Clark Duncan was ununrecognizable as Tai Lung's over confident warden. He shared his scenes with Dan Fogler, who I loved in Balls of Fury, but didn't even recognize here.

I'm sure that, armed with this knowledge, I would be able to recognize each and every one of these fine voice talents if I were to watch the movie again. That ain't happenin' 'til the DVD comes out, though.

Shifu's Fantabulous Five give our hero, Po, the harsh treatment that is his due for having the temerity to be nearly randomly chosen by their master's master. Their treatment of Po pales in comparison to Shifu's treatment of him, though. I thought Kung Fu masters were supposed to be wise? This one doesn't wise up until the metaphorical head slap by his master is delivered right before Oogway, ah, but that would be telling.

Like all great reluctant hero movies, we get a training montage midway through that makes a veritable master of Kung Fu out of Po. I'm not really bothered by this or the events leading up to it. It's all familiar, ingrained in the sub-genre wherein this movie lives. I suppose accepting the format allowed me to appreciate the nuances and humor used throughout. This movie doesn't tread any new ground, but then, who wants to be challenged by a kid flick?

The final reveal and climactic battles were enjoyable in their predictable ways. I think my favorite part was when Po finally realizes that he can stand up to the super-powerful Tai Lung, all by his lonesome. It's the ensuing battle and Po's tactics for winning that are so entertaining. What? Upset that I didn't post a spoiler alert? You obviously haven't been reading this, then. Po is the reluctant hero in a kids movie. You thought that maybe the outcome or how we got to it was in doubt? Then you need to google yourself a "hero's journey archetype" and remember all those stories you already know.

The animation was top notch. This movie was produced very much in the Madagascar style. That's not to say the movie was like a southeastern African island-nation that is no doubt beautiful and cinematic in its own right. No, the style reminded me a lot of the 2005 Dreamworks movie named after the island. The cartoony style lends itself well to the CGI medium. Rather than striving to look like something it's can't be, realistic, the CGI seems to take a back seat to some good cartooning.

Black and company deliver on the laughs, tug a couple of heartstrings (slightly, only slightly) and give us some good fast-paced action. At least, I'm assuming on the last one, since I missed the penultimate battle between Shifu and Tai Lung since Scarlett chose that opportunity to get out of her seat and hold a loud conversation with anyone within ear shot. I love that little girl!

I give Kung Fu Panda five out of eight noodle bowls on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything. For a good time with the kids, there's nothing better in the theaters right now.

Tomorrow, The Incredible Hulk!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tenth Anniversary Adventures

Anniversary time! Stacy and I had our big tenth this weekend. I took the weekend off so we could spend some time alone together. This will be the first time since Vicki was a baby (now seven) that we've been away from the kid(s). We headed out to Chincoteague Island on the VA shore Friday night. The island's main claim to fame is bordering Asseteague Island, home of herds of wild ponies. While we didn't get to see any of the ponies because of smoke from some mainland wildfires, we had an excellent time.

We stayed at Miss Molly's Inn, a bed and breakfast in an old Victorian mansion. Marquerite Henry wrote the Newbury Award-winning novel about the Chincoteague horses, Misty of Chincoteague, while staying there. Having made our reservations late, we ended up in one of the attic rooms, but even that was great. The whole house was out of square, walking up the stairs was like being in a V8 commercial. The furnishings were antique and books were everywhere. In other words, a place specifically designed to piss off kids. Fantastic!

The next day, we went to the beach. Having perhaps the most alabaster skin this side of a bad poem, Stacy and I opted for the beach umbrella and SPF you-can-swim-in-the-sun-with-this-stuff-on sun block. Stacy insisted on bringing buckets and shovels to build a masterpiece in the sand. Unbeknownst to me, Stacy has never built a sand castle before. We've been to Hawaii twice, she's been three times total, and she's never done it. I feel kinda bad, since we actually didn't get to do it this time either. Instead, we did what all cheesy tourists do at the beach, buried each other. The water was frigid. We swam in it anyway, of course. At least until we couldn't feel our feet anymore. The rest of the time, we just read on the beach. That is the life.

Anyway, here's the pics:

As for anniversary gifts, Stacy gave me mine early. A little background, I went golfing for the first time in my life last month. I had a great time and have been wanting to go again since then. After a few "hints" from me and from a couple of my golf partners, Stacy bought me the only logical thing she could:

Is she not awesome?

For my part, I got Stacy a surprise gift. Gleaning on some hints she dropped months ago, I picked up a top-of-the-line TomTom GPS for the minivan. To throw her off the scent, since the purchase was sizable, I told her I had bought a new router to replace our erratic one. She was naturally confused as to why I didn't install it as soon as it got here. I mumbled something about waiting until FiOS came to our area and she forgot all about it. Earlier in the week, I broke it out while she was at a PTO meeting and had the girls record direction prompts. When I picked Stacy and Vicki up from ballet Friday night to head to Chincoteague, the GPS was installed. Stacy was dully surprised. I think her words were to the effect of, "Scott! You booger!" I love surprising her.

GPS rocks, by the way. Although we did get lost following it to pick up the girls. We listened to its directions even though the road we were on had a "Dead End" sign. I should have gotten the maps updated before we used it. It was a great diversion, however, as we surprised a bunch of high school kids setting up for a kegger at the end of an industrial park alley. It was hilarious! The first couple of kids parked on the side of the road before a small cul de sac just stared at us as we drove by, bald fat guy with a long goatee and chick with pink hair in a big minivan with a Tinkerbell antenna topper. I can't imagine what was going through their heads. I wonder if they scattered after we turned around and left? I tried to get Stacy to call the cops on them. No youth is complete without running from the cops at least once.

Hm. I guess my childhood wasn't complete.

What Do You Get for Fathers Day? Double Blog Post!

Woo hoo! Congrats to all the dads out there for making it through one more year. Happy Fathers Day! I decided to celebrate the day, I'd post not just once, but twice! I know, I know, it's an amazing gift. Don't spend it all in one place.

I had a great fathers day today. I received my fathers day gift a couple of days ago, but still haven't used it. For a while now, I've been frustrated by our charcoal grill. The time it requires to warm up and the frequent moving food to find hot spots has worn on me over the years. Since our most recent one has started to rust, I've been looking at new ones.

This is what Stacy got me:

Yup! Nice, eh? Stacy rocks.

Not only that, but the girls bought me Batman Pez, I have Batman, The Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin. They also got me a couple of talking cards, including an Indiana Jones one that played a personalized message and the Indy theme. Very sweet.

I've got a great family.